From rock bottom to the red carpet: win or lose on Oscar night, Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey Jr. are the undisputed comeback kids of the 81st Academy Awards.
Both actors appeared to have the world at their feet during the 1980s, their performances in a string of acclaimed films suggesting that a glittering Hollywood career lay ahead of them.
Rourke s self-destructive streak saw him cast into the wilderness for much of the 1990s while Downey, battling substance abuse problems, lurched from one drug offense to the next, at one stage spending nearly a year in prison.
But offering further proof that Hollywood loves nothing more than a comeback story, both men are vying for Oscar honors at the Kodak Theater next Sunday.
Rourke, 56, is nominated in the best actor category for his performance as washed-up prizefighter Randy The Ram Robinson, in the gritty drama The Wrestler, a role which carries more than an echo of the actor s own life.
Larry Gross, director of the school of communication at the University of Southern California, acknowledged there was certain kind of stories, Cinderella stories that the Academy seems to like.
Gross said he expected Rourke to be competitive in the best actor race because he evoked something of a Rocky quality, someone who had really fallen down and he lifts himself up.
Downey meanwhile is nominated in the best supporting actor category for his hilarious performance in Tropic Thunder, where he portrays a movie star who takes method acting to ridiculous extremes by undergoing a skin pigmentation procedure in order to play an African-American platoon sergeant.
The irony of receiving a second Oscar nomination for the role, following his nod for 1992 s Chaplin, was not lost on Downey.
The funny thing is that I was playing a guy who s an Oscar-crazed weirdo whose every motivation is accolades, Downey, 43, said.
So that was kind of ironic.
While Downey was battling substance abuse in the 1990s, Rourke was steadily dismantling an acting career that had earned him comparisons with Marlon Brando after his performances in films such as Rumblefish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, and Diner.
In 1991, Rourke declared he was scaling back acting to become a professional boxer, a career choice that later led to him requiring reconstructive plastic surgery on his face, according to reports.
By 2000, Rourke and Downey were considered lost causes by many within the movie industry, with producers and insurance companies reluctant to gamble on casting them given their history of erratic behavior.
I tried to beat the system, and the system beat the shit out of me, Rourke told reporters after his best actor victory at the Golden Globes last month.
Rourke s re-emergence gathered pace in 2005, when he appeared in Sin City, a cult classic directed by Robert Rodriguez.
I was out of the game for so many years, after about 10 years I didn t think it was going to happen again, Rourke said of his Oscar nod last month.
I appreciate it a lot. Because it showed me that this is a profession where if you work hard enough and many years go by, you can get a second chance.
Downey meanwhile joked about his drug problems at the 2007 Oscars, when he presented the award for visual effects.
Visual effects: They enable us to see aliens, experience other universes, move in slow-motion, or watch spiders climbing high above the city landscape, he said. For me, just a typical weeknight in the mid-90s.
The interest in Downey s and Rourke s comebacks is due in part for a willingness to find an interesting narrative , according to Robert Thompson, a pop-culture expert at the Syracuse University in New York.
In this way, a comeback, someone who has been a big star, which we enjoyed following, and then who falls hard, which let s be honest we all enjoy following, and then who kind of comes back again – these are characters that we already know, Thompson said.
They ve already been in the cast of this super-narrative of famous people, therefore we find it interesting.